In reply to Alice Walker’s calumnies against Jews

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In reply to Alice Walker’s calumnies against Jews

-Second in a Series-

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — Most of us probably had a lot of respect and cheered for Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It is a story about the life of African-American women who lived in the South during the 1930s. Eventually, the book was adapted to  a film, it received eleven Academy Awards in 1985.

When the New York Times Book Review published a full-length interview with Alice Walker, the interviewer asked a very innocent question: “What books are on your nightstand?” Walker replied with four. One of the books she chose was David Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free: The 21st Century Edition. Apparently, Icke is someone Walker admires.

For most Jews, David Icke is probably an unfamiliar name.

Icke is an English writer who has made a reputation for himself as a professional conspiracy theorist. Most Brits regard him as a genuine “eccentric.” Among his antics, Icke claimed to be a part of the Godhead (move over Jesus!) and in 1990, he claimed that the world would soon be destroyed by tidal waves, earthquakes. Icke’s name is also associated with Holocaust denial. He also believes shape-shifting reptilian creatures from a different dimension control the world.

Icke’s love of the later 19th century anti-Semitic book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has given rise to his belief that the Illuminati, Masons, Globalist Bankers, Rothschilds, Federal Reserve, and other “secret” societies, “control the world.” Although Icke denies being an anti-Semite, Icke considers “the Talmud to be among the world’s most racist works on the planet.” As if that were not enough, he accuses the Jews of being the primary force behind the American slave trade and contends the Jews control the KKK.  Louis Farrakhan and other black radicals have made similar allegations against the Jews.[1]

So how does Alice Walker feel about the Jews?

As recently as November 2017, Walker decided to write a poem on her blog, which she called, “It is Our Duty to Study the Talmud.” Like a true disciple of Icke, she walks goosesteps with her British mentor. Here are just a couple of choice selections from her blog:

Alice Walker writes:

It is our duty, I believe, to study the Talmud.
It is within this book that,
I believe, we will find answers
To some of the questions
That most perplex us.

Rabbi Samuel’s Response:  Yes, the Talmud is full of questions, but the Talmud never tries to close people’s minds, but seeks to expand it.  The Talmud is not an arcane book of escoteria, its focus is to help people discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Alice Walker continues:

Where to start?
You will find some information,
Slanted, unfortunately,
By Googling. For a more in depth study
I recommend starting with YouTube.
Simply follow the trail of “The Talmud”
as its poison belatedly winds its way
Into our collective consciousness . . .

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Diatribes against the Talmud are nothing new in Jewish history. The Church burned the Talmud since the 13th century and beyond. The Nazi propagandists also loved attacking the Talmud.

Alice Walker writes:

Is Jesus boiling eternally in hot excrement,
For his “crime” of throwing the bankers
Out of the Temple? For loving, standing with,
And defending
The poor? Was his mother, Mary,
A whore?

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Like LeBron James, Walker presumes the “Jews control all the money of the world.” I have already written about this in a previous article.

But what about Jesus? Does the Talmud claim that Jesus is boiling in a pot of excrement? This is an interesting question. Actually, there is an opinion that someone expressed in the Talmud that purports, Jesus is boiling in a pot of excrement.[2] The historian Peter Schaffer explains:

  • The most bizarre of all the Jesus stories is the one that tells how Jesus shares his place in the Netherworld with Titus and Balaam, the notorious archenemies of the Jewish people. Whereas Titus is punished for the destruction of the Temple by being burned to ashes, reassembled, and burned over and over again, and whereas Balaam is castigated by sitting in hot semen, Jesus’ fate consists of sitting forever in boiling excrement. This obscene story has occupied scholars for a long time, without any satisfactory solution. I will speculate that it is again the deliberate, and quite graphic, answer to a New Testament claim, this time Jesus’ promise that eating his flesh and drinking his blood guarantees eternal life to his followers. Understood this way, the story conveys an ironic message: not only did Jesus not rise from the dead, he is punished in hell forever; accordingly, his followers—the blossoming Church, which maintains to be the new Israel—are nothing but a bunch of fools, misled by a cunning deceiver.[3]

I would take a different approach from Schaffer. Oppressed people often resort to sarcasm to get back at a threatening foe. Historically, the Jews of Late Antiquity did not have a problem with Jesus per se, but they did have a problem with the Pauline recreation of Jesus that the Church authorities tried to force-feed the Jewish population. Jews were often under the penalty of death or incarceration if they converted a single Roman citizen. This lampooning of Jesus in the Talmud reflects a Jewish counterpunch at the Christian community of their time.

Nobody ever claimed the Talmud is a compendium of flawless wisdom and virtue. Unfortunately, there are some silly and inane comments found in its pages. Should it bother us? Simply put, people will sometimes say stupid things from time to time. You cannot blame the “Jews” for every odd thing a given rabbi may have said. Historically, you could say that the Talmud was the very first open-source precursor to the blog. While there is a lot of wisdom for the most part in the Talmud, there are some comments I wish the redactors never preserved.

Alice Walker continues:

Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: The Talmud as with the Bible condemns slavery as an institution. The rabbis liberated slaves just to make a minyan! The Talmud says further that anyone who acquires a slave acquires for himself a master, since he must treat the slave better than he does himself. The Sages insisted that a slave must have a normal family life, no different from that of his master. As the Talmud states, “One who acquires a Hebrew slave acquires a master for himself” (BT Kiddushin 20a); Treating a slave as an equal (or even better) was never an easy task, but the Talmudic rules made it possible for the Jewish community to eventually ban slavery as an institution.

With respect to pedophilia, the Talmud never endorsed the sexual exploitation of minors. I think Walker is confusing Judaism with the other Semitic faith that encourages fifty-year-old men to marry seven-year-old girls, as Mohammed did with Isha. By the way, Ms. Walker, this practice still occurs even today among some Muslims throughout the Muslim world.[4]  Historically, Jewish law never sanctioned marrying young girls to grown adults.

Alice Walker writes:

You may find that as the cattle
We have begun to feel we are
We have an ancient history of oppression
Of which most of us have not been even vaguely
Aware. You will find that we, Goyim, sub-humans, animals

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Nowhere in the Talmud does it say that “Goyim” are subhuman. The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a single human life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world. [-Mishnah: Sanhedrin 4:5; JT 4:9, BT Sanhedrin 37a ] [1] Furthermore, the Talmud always stresses, “You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:16) – See BT Sanhedrin 73a, passim. Killing a Canaanite or any Gentile is a crime punishable by death.

Commentary: I doubt whether Alice Walker ever read a page of Talmud in her life. I think she is so woefully ignorant of the Talmud because in her heart she hates Jews. She ought to study the Ethics of the Fathers, or find a rabbi to teach her Talmud, as explained by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a man who arguably is the Rashi of our generation.

But wait, Alice Walker writes further:

 –The Palestinians of Gaza
The most obvious representatives of us
At the present time – are a cruel example of what may be done
With impunity, and without conscience . . .

One can easily gather that Ms. Walker loves the Palestinians of Gaza; one would think she considers them among the most virtuous of peoples. But in my opinion, her praise of them is surprising.

Ms. Walker has probably never been to a Palestinian summer camp in Gaza. If she did, I wonder what she would think of how they teach young children how to fire machine guns, crawl through tunnels, learn how to use rocket launchers, plant mines, participate in “Knife Camp,” where these youngsters learn how to stab anyone who is a Jew.[5]

What I am about to say may shock many of you. I write this as a child of a Holocaust survivor. My father and family survived the worse of the concentration camps. But even my father felt that the Palestinians of Gaza as well as some of the radicals living in the West Bank, had reached a level of human depravity that made the Nazis almost look civilized by comparison. Nazis never sacrificed their children to kill Jews; nor did they turn their children into human bombs just to kill Jews, or put rat-poison in suicide vests to maim as many Jews just for the love of God. Where else but in the Arab world would runaway Nazis be treated like rock-stars? Nazi Alois Brunner’s confirmed death in Damascus reveals an uncomfortable truth: Egypt and Syria have long ties to Nazi Germany and long provided sanctuary to fugitive war criminals.[6]

By the way, Ms. Walker, the Nazis hated blacks and would have preferred using them as slaves, to be discarded after finishing with them. The Muslim-Arab axis during WWII is something you should never forget. History has shown that the enemy of the Jew is no friend of the Negro.

Next time Ms. Walker wishes to mention the Talmud, I suggest she find a good mentor. She might be surprised at the wisdom it contains.

*
NOTES

[1] And Icke’s list goes on, and includes numerous reptilian shape-shifting alien conspiracies—which the Jews are a part of.

[2] BT Gittin 57a.

[3] Peter Schaffer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, NJ: by Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 13.

[4] https://www.politico.eu/article/immigrants-migration-culture-integration-sweden-struggles-over-child-marriage/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9500484/Alarm-as-hundreds-of-children-under-age-of-10-married-in-Iran.html

[5] https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/08/31/palestinian-summer-camps-where-kids-learn-to-kill-jews-constitute-child-abuse/ See also http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/49575/Gaza-children-play-war-in-Palestinian-summer-camp and https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3742455,00.html. Comp. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mariotti/what-we-got-wrong-about-n_b_10864118.html and

[6] https://www.thedailybeast.com/hitlers-henchmen-in-arabia

“Twas the night before Christmas . . .” The Origin & Significance of “Nittel Nacht”

Chabad Florida Tefillin Santa closeup 12-2013

This past week, a newspaper featured a picture of a Lubavitcher rabbi putting tefillon on Santa Claus. It reminded me of a story from Eli Plaut’s book, Kosher Christmas. Once mentions how an old Ukrainian Jewish immigrant dressed up as Santa Claus and spoke Yiddish. When speaking to Alan King, he quipped, “Men Mahk a leben,” which means, “A man has to make a living!” (p. 135).

Chabad and Christmas seem like an odd combination. Yet, Jewish history is full of unusual anecdotes and customs. Pious Jews have their own way of distinguishing Christmas from other days of the year, but not quite in the manner that you might think.

“December 25th is universally celebrated by non-Jews, as the birthday of that person upon whom a dominant non-Jewish religion was founded and who had the Halachic status as a Jew who lures other Jews to idol-worship. A spirit of impurity, therefore, prevails on that day. (Additionally, there was a period when members of that religion used to celebrate this eve by attacking Jews, which led to an enactment against keeping the Yeshivas open during the eve of Dec 25th).”

Note that Chabad never refers to Jesus by his proper name. Simply put, Chabad considers Jesus to be a non-person.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950) explains concerning this Hassidic tradition of Christmas Eve, “It is our custom to refrain from studying Torah on Nittel Nacht until midnight. The reason, as the Previous Rebbe heard from his father, the Rebbe RaShaB (Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, a.k.a., the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe), is so that one will not add spiritual vitality to that person [Jesus], and those who presently follow his views [i.e., Christians everywhere]. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (quotes his father in the popular Hayom Yom (Teves 17), ‘I am not fond of those students who begrudge these eight hours and cannot tear themselves away from Torah study!’” [1]

Incidentally, most ultra-Orthodox Jews, like the Lithuanian and Sephardic communities, disregard this custom; for them—the study of Torah is of primary importance. They continue their studies on Christmas Eve as well.

HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE ORIGIN OF THIS CUSTOM?

To understand a Jewish custom, sometimes it pays to have the curiosity and determination of a Sherlock Holmes. Most of you reading this Hassidic instruction might be wondering: “What in the world are they talking about? Why should we finish Torah study before Christmas Eve?”

The answer is more complex than most of us realize.

The origin of Nittel Nacht in modern rabbinic literature is one of the more fascinating chapters of Jewish history and folklore. “Nittel ” actually comes from the Latin, “Natalis,” or, “Nativity Night.” It is truly ironic that 99% of all the Hassidic Jews who follow this observance, haven’t the foggiest idea that Nittel Nacht means, “Nativity Night.” It is also possible that Nittel Nacht may be a corruption of the Latin dies natalis, “birthday,” i.e., the “birthday” of Jesus.[2]

While Christmas is a joyful holiday for billions of people, historically, during the medieval era and the centuries that followed, Jews were forbidden to appear on streets and public places on the high Christian holidays under penalty of severe punishment; hence the schools and synagogues were closed on those days. [3] Young and old, who were compelled to remain at home, enjoyed themselves with a variety of games; consequently, the meaning of the word Nittel received the folk etymological explanation as being an abbreviation for “Nit Iden-Tore-Lernen” (“Jews must not study Torah”).

Of course, the time of Nittel Nacht will vary depending on whether one is a Greek Orthodox Christian or not, for they celebrate the holiday on January 6th. Some Hassidic Jews, Ilan mentions, will not study Torah on New Year’s Eve either for the same reason.

In the final analysis, is there a place for Nittel Nacht today? Emphatically, “NO!!!” Not unless you purposely set out to insult our Christian neighbors. While there are a number of customs that originated during the most depraved times of medieval history, when our people suffered from Christian persecution, it behooves us to let go of our medieval attitudes.

We need to change our attitude about our Christian neighbors. 

As modern Jews, it behooves us to cultivate a relationship with our Christian neighbors and friends based on the principle of mutual respect. Jewish leaders often insist that Christianity purge itself of its anti-Semitic attitudes and this is indeed necessary. In some ways, we need to start a process promoting reconciliation by doing the same. After all, we are no longer living in the 19th century. 

Reason dictates that the custom of not studying Torah on Christmas Eve ought to be discontinued by any person in promoting a healthier Jewish and Christian relationship.  But this cannot be done so long as we hold on to the old ideas that should have been discarded long ago in the dustbin of history. Simply put, we need to stop clinging on to the ghosts of Christmas past.

Today, even Orthodox Jews across the world and especially in the Land of Israel are beginning to explore interfaith dialogue for the first time in recent memory. We are no longer living in an age of religious polemics and religious intolerance. American society, for the most part, is definitely far more tolerant than the world our ancestors left long ago.

No religion is immune to the dangers of promoting religious prejudice; or as they say, “A pig with lipstick is still a pig.” Prejudice and intolerance should not be quietly accepted as if it is normal–because it is not! Unfortunately, the ghetto is more than just a historical space–-it is an unhealthy state of mind that we must leave behind.

When I think about this subject, the thought occurs to me that as rabbis, we need to preserve the embers of our ancestral faith—and not its ashes. Life is a series of rebirths. What you were yesterday is different from who you will be today or tomorrow. Abrahamic religions who identify with the patriarch Abraham need to find a better path that will promote peaceful relations. The only way to cure the problems we see today is for all of us to let go of the symbols and metaphors of religious hatred and intolerance that still unconsciously clings to members of our own faith communities.

I want to wish all of my Christian brothers and sisters a very Merry Christmas to you all!

 

=====

Notes:

[1] Anonymous, HaMaaseh Hu HaIkar (Brooklyn, NY: 2006), 10-11. I would also add that the Rabbis of Lubavitch have never referred to Jesus by name, but always through the pejorative designation of, “that man.” In biblical and rabbinic literature, to be without a name is to be condemned to virtual non-existence.

[2] Curiously, but erroneously, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson attempts to provide a Hebraic basis for the word’s etymology, “The word  nittel implies ‘lack,’ or possibly ‘suspended.’ In Latin, natal means  “born,” i.e.,  ‘the time of birth’” (Letter dated 9th Kislev 5735, printed in Likutei Sichos Vol.15,  554)

[3] The earliest Halachic reference of this custom dates back to R. Yair Chaim Bachrach (1638-1702) in his Mekor Chaim of the Chavat Yair OH:155

Anti-Semitism and its Discontents

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Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s most enduring social diseases that we as Jews have known throughout our history.

With the murder of eleven Jews at the Pittsburgh Etz Hayyim Synagogue, the Jewish community awoke from its slumber only to realize that anti-Semitism is still alive and well—here in in the United States. This attack was the largest anti-Semitic crime in recent American history.

I know Squirrel Hill very well, my father used to make us to the kosher delis back in the early sixties.

But no sooner did the attack occur, people in the media immediately began blaming the attack upon President Trump. While Trump’s mannerisms at times can be admittedly offensive, he cannot be blamed for the murders that occurred at the synagogue. As it turned out, the shooter actually hates Trump for having so many Jewish associates surrounding him.  He also accused him of being a “globalist.”

Robert Bowers is obviously demented.

Yet, the political divisions of our time have made it clear that we are reliving the Civil War. The bifurcation of our society is eating its heart. It is the gravest threat we have seen since the Civil War.

Take ANTIFA for an example; this group feels entitled to attack people with baseball bats, destroys livelihoods and property, just because a politician they do not like happens to be eating out with his or her family. Just ask Paul Welch, a Bernie Sanders supporter who paraded an American flag in protest to ANTIFA’s antics in Portland on Aug. 4, 2016.[1]

When leaders like Maxine Waters encourages people to “get in people’s faces” because they happen to be Republican is the mark of neo-fascism. All this contributes to the heightening of tensions that leads to the kind of anti-Semitic attacks against our people.

Encouraging people to commit acts of violence only serves to heighten violence—on both sides of the political spectrum. This kind of fanaticism only breeds the type of malevolence that exploded at the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat.

Like a virus, anti-Semitism travels across the continents,[2] and finds sympathetic voices here in the United States. As Jews, we have been asleep at the wheel for a long time and have not paid any attention to the rise of anti-Semitism among the “progressive” movements. We tend to think that most anti-Semitic rhetoric emanates from the political right, such as the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other similar groups. However, the banal acceptance of anti-Semitism from the political left ought to be much more troubling for Jews who have long identified with the left.

Political extremism from the right and left are equally threatening.

As is often the case with anti-Semitism, we tend to react to the symptoms but fail to recognize the problem. Hate speech against Israel and Zionism has become an acceptable way of expressing hatred against the Jew. Jewish history has taught us that hate speech that is directed against the Jew almost inevitably leads to violence against the Jew. Not everyone is as honest and straightforward as Farrakhan when speaking about “the Jews,” but when today’s political left prefers being “anti-Zionist,” castigating Israel as the source for all the problems of the world and the Middle East.

On Facebook, pictures of Palestinians lynching Orthodox cladded Jews with pe’ot is considered “acceptable” free expression—despite on their crackdown on conservatives. Social media outlets are going to have to do a better job in curbing anti-Semitic websites—regardless of their point of origin.

THE WOMAN’S MARCH OF JANUARY 2018

This past January, one of the Women’s March co-directors, Tamika Mallory, attended the Nation of Islam Savior’s Day celebration, where Louis Farrakhan told the audience that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

Mallory felt so elated by her photo-op with Farrakhan, she immediately Instagrammed it for all to see. When a news commentator asked her how she could stand proudly by Farrakhan, Mallory denounced anyone who dared to criticize her participation with him. Once again Linda Sarsour and Maxine Waters stood in solidarity with her. Farrakhan speaks of Jews as a “termite problem,” and we all know what any homeowner needs to do to get rid of termites. When the Woman’s March used a platform calling for the boycott of Israel, Linda Sarsour said, “Israelis need to be dehumanized.” Facebook continues to foster the atmosphere and ambiance that is contributing toward anti-Semitism.

Let me remind you that most Israelis happen to be Jews.

The Woman’s March displayed it contempt toward the Jew. Although they showed their solidarity with Louis Farrakhan, they did not extend that courtesy for the Anti-Defamation League. As one observer wrote:

  • The Women’s March has left Jewish women to bear the brunt of white supremacy and patriarchy without their partnership. When Jewish women lifted their voices and demanded to be included in the Women’s March Unity Principles, we were ignored. When we were standing outside the JCC frantically searching for our toddlers, they had nothing to say. When Blaze Bernstein was murdered by neo-Nazis, they were silent. Anti-Semitic incidents were up 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest jump on record, but Mallory had nothing to say on that subject, either.[3]

Yes, the Left has mainstreamed anti-Semitism, and American Jews had better wake up—especially those who are in love with the Left.

We have also heard how Jews are “white” and have “skin privilege.” Anti-Semitism’s animus will always find a way to tar and feather the Jew in an unfavorable light. When Jews become demonized for being “white” and “privileged” this too contributes toward the culture of anti-Semitism.  Obviously, this canard emanates from people who know nothing about Jewish history, or for that matter, about the history of anti-Semitism in the United States.[4]

Blame it on the Identity Politics of our time—another unhealthy sign that threatens to produce more anti-Semitic attitudes.

In the United States, we have seen thousands of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish students or speakers, many of whom are supported by the professors and leaders of these universities. Wearing a Star of David is often an invitation for an anti-Semitic attack. Jewish students are hounded by the advocates of the BDS movement—by their professors and by their classmates.

The culture of anti-Semitism among the American left has been smoldering for quite some time. This is not to say there are not anti-Semitic elements of the political right. Unfortunately, political extremes present a mirrored image of the Other.

The situation has gotten to be so bad, rabbinic scholars are now permitting certain members of their communities to obtain a permit for concealed weapons.

I have met Jews in many communities who “pack heat” because of anti-Semitic attacks in the past. I suspect more synagogues will consider that option if these attacks do not abate.

NOTES:

[1] https://reason.com/blog/2018/08/21/antifa-portland-evan-welch-violence

[2] But bear in mind anti-Semitism is not bound by time or spatial considerations. Jews living in Europe have experienced countless attacks in France and Britain by radical Muslims who vent their hatred of Israel by attacking ordinary Jews or vandalizing their businesses. Some rabbis have urged Jews living in France not to publically wear a yarmulke for fear it might solicit an anti-Semitic reaction. In Britain, a country that has enabled and promoted anti-Semitism since the medieval era continues to spew their animus against the Jew. Jeremy Corbyn may not be a familiar name to most Jews, but this man is the head of the British Labor Party—one of the most important political parties of Britain. Corbyn donated money to Paul Eisen, a well-known Holocaust denier. In addition, he is a member of the anti-Semitic Facebook group, “Palestine Live,” which is also well known for its hatred toward Jews and Israel.

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/260428/tamika-mallory-stop-bringing-hate-into-the-womens-march

[4] https://forward.com/scribe/355864/anti-semitism-in-america-is-nothing-new-dont-deny-jewish-history-and-cultur/

Showdown in Washington DC

Image result for pictures of blasey and kavanagh

 

Most of us want to know what really happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford that took place at a party somewhere in Maryland during the early 1980s.

Neither you nor I have any information about what happened if anything.

And while I realize for many sexual assault victims, the story awakens past traumas of abuse, nevertheless, we are not the ones on trial. Keeping an open mind in matters of just is essential. Justice is not determined by public opinion but on the basis of evidence—and not hearsay.

This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

Antecedents to this principle exist in the Torah itself:

  • “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

This principle can even be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.).

Whether you agree with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s “originalism” view of interpreting the Constitution, or not, we would all be wise to suspend judgment until we have the facts.

Why? Because the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our very system of law. Public lynch mobs ought to be a thing of the past, but judging by what I have heard from many of Blasey-Ford’s advocates is disturbing.

If she has evidence, the onus is upon her to prove. Asking for Kavanaugh not to be present in the room is outrageous. Our Constitution says the accused has the right to face his accuser. Actually, as most of you ought to know, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The onus is upon Blasey-Ford, it is not upon the accused. Asking for him not to have his attorney defend him is also inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to an attorney and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Let’s be clear about that.

Now, I must admit, a part of me believes this entire ordeal has a political animus. Its goal: —to thwart President Trump’s attempt to appoint Judge Kavanaugh.

Usually, when a person commits a sexual assault against someone, there is usually a pattern. Just take a look at President Bill Clinton for an example, had a legion of women who said he assaulted them. Many of these cases eventually settled out of court. None of the 65 women who knew him in high school ever complained about him being inappropriate. Quite the opposite.  They attest, “We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” the letter read. “We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.”[1]

None of the women who have worked with Kavanaugh ever complained about his behavior either. His record has been squeaky clean.

Some more afterthoughts: Once you open the Genie’s bottle, getting it back inside may prove impossible; these political leaders will discover: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We already know about assault charges associated with Keith Ellison, who gave his wife a black eye, as well as other women in his past.

Ultimately, I also believe that Senator Feinstein’s Hail Mary pass may not bode well for many Democrats or certain Republicans. There is a slush-fund in Congress intended to pay off women who have been sexually exploited by our esteemed members of Congress, Once President Trump makes this information publically available, our national attention shall be directed at the real enemies of women’s rights—the charlatans who masquerade as supporters of women’s rights. Chucky Schumer has been accused as well. Joe Biden has plenty of skeletons to worry about too. I suspect some Republicans have something to fear.

My prediction: I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be vindicated.

As a Jew, I only wish Jewish representatives in Congress would not turn themselves into lightning rods that will only increase anti-Semitism in our great country. Next time someone wants to make an accusation against any prominent political figure, I hope that person’s name is Smith.

 

Thoughts on Putin and Trump’s meeting in Helsinki– A Contrarian Point of View

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Some people may view this topic too incendiary to write about—I get it. Yet, it is an important issue—especially when we consider the high stakes that are at risk. My point of view is contrarian. Consider me a contrarian life-long Democrat who values truth and integrity above politics.

Admittedly, President Trump can be a lightning rod when it comes to some of the things that he says off the cuff. Yet, he has been surprisingly effective in the international arena. By “arena,” the images of the Roman Coliseum comes to mind. I thought President Obama or Bush had his detractors, but President Donald Trump is in a league of his own.

With this thought in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, who in his own way, is every bit as complicated as our President.

Before Trump met with Putin, I could hear the naysayers say that having a summit with Putin was a bad idea. What could Trump gain from such a meeting? If he publicly confronts Putin about the Russians interfering in the American elections, then it is quite possible the critics of Trump would construe such a remark as an admission that he did not legitimately “win the election.” Conversely, if Trump did not publicly address the problem, then his critics would view him as weak—or worse argue that Trump is a puppet of Putin.

It reminds me of an old story—one, in fact, that is relevant to the holiday of Tisha’ b’Av

  • In Roman times, a Jew once walked in front of Emperor Hadrian and greeted him. The King asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” Hadrian exclaimed, “How dare a Jew to pass in front of Hadrian and greet him?” and he ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” Another Jew passed and, seeing what happened to the first man, did not greet him. Hadrian asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “A Jew.”
  • He exclaimed, “How dare a Jew pass in front of Hadrian without giving a greeting?” and again ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” His senators said, “We cannot understand your actions. He who greeted you was put to death, and he who did not greet you was put to death!”
  • Hadrian replied, “How dare you advise me on how I should execute those I hate?” And the Holy Spirit kept crying out, “You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their malice, all their plots against me.” (Lam. 3:59-60).[1]

If you substitute “Democratic Party” (or even certain members of the Republican Party), and change “Jew” to “Trump,” you have an almost perfect parallel to the midrashic story mentioned above.

Arguably, Trump’s greatest criticisms come from two major groups: (1)  Those who hate Trump and who will criticize the President for anything he does. (2). Those few in the military and intelligence communities who are wholly bought and owned by the war industries, for it is in their financial interests to have the US and Russia armed to the teeth and at each other’s throats. Eisenhower warned us about the excesses of the American military complex.

One of the more objective Republican critics of President Trump is Rand Paul, whose fierce independence as a thinker and as a leader has challenged the President on numerous occasions in the past. He is sometimes known as the “the Republican who saved ObamaCare.” In an article he wrote for the Washington Post, his remarks on the Trump-Putin meeting impressed me as clear-headed and thought-provoking. Paul was supportive of both these men meeting. Paul further pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s legion of critics are motivated by a mutual animus they have for him. Comically, he even referred to the enemies of Trump as suffering from “a bit of Trump derangement syndrome.”

Now that was truly funny!

When Paul was asked by Blitzer “Who do you trust [on election meddling], the American intelligence community . . . or Putin?” Paul gave an interesting diplomatic answer, ““What I would say is that all power needs to have checks and balances, and I think our intelligence community has way too much power.”[2] . (This interview happened before Trump claimed Tuesday that he misspoke when he gave Putin the benefit of the doubt).” It is a pity Trump did not have Rand Paul coaching him. If I were him, I’d bring him along next time he meets with Putin.

Paul agrees with Trump that engaging pariah global powers is more productive than punishing them. This writer agrees with this objective. Shaming a world leader is a very dangerous thing to do—especially when it is guaranteed to escalate tensions and make a potential adversary. more hostile.

The world has become a very dangerous place over the last thirty years or more. The Iranian presence in Syria is so serious; a war between Israel and Iran is almost inevitable. The two most powerful leaders of the world have within their ability to take control of this dangerous situation.

The proliferation of nuclear technology is another serious problem that can engulf Western Civilization with destruction. Once again, the two leaders of the most powerful nuclear nations must establish a dialogue and address these issues. Remarkably, Trump’s diplomacy with China and North Korea has the potential of yielding positive fruit. Whether you hate Trump or not, at least give him credit for being innovative and bold—whereas leaders in the past, beginning with Clinton, Bush, and Obama and their underlings only appeased the North Korean dictators.

Give Trump credit for decimating the ranks of ISIS, who proved they are a presence that must be utterly defeated for world peace.

One of the most memorable lines Trump expressed—one that really ought to command our respect, “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than risk peace in pursuit of politics.” Once again, this statement comes from a man whose vision may help pave the way for a safer world for all of us to co-inhabit.

As my good Internet Indian friend, Imitz Mohummad, wrote to me, “These jerks want Trump to punch Putin in the nose and start a nuclear war with the other major nuclear force on Earth. I’m a patriot and a believer in a powerful America. I have also witnessed the body bags filled with the fruit of American youth when fat old saber rattlers play soldier. Trump was masterful in Helsinki. The Swamp Donkeys may scream but tonight the world is better off that these two men shook hands!”

Amen!

Postscript:

One of the most interesting remarks regarding the Russian meddling came from Putin who floated an offer for members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to “come and work” with Russian investigators and interrogate those individuals, whom Mueller recently indicted.  During the Monday press conference, Putin said Russia would allow the special counsel to “send an official request” to the Kremlin to question the 12 Russian intelligence officers who had been charged by Mueller with crimes related to election meddling just three days earlier. Moreover, there is an extradition policy that both the US and Russia have agreed to.

Trump’s reaction was cute, Putin “offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Indeed it is.

But this is assuming that Mueller or his team take Putin up on his offer. I doubt it, much like the Roman senators could not persuade Hadrian to let go of his animus toward the Jews.

Lastly, and Putin also made an interesting counter-argument that should not be ignored. Putin accused U.S. officials of committing crimes against Russia and said his government would want to question them in return. Specifically, he mentioned an investor named Bill Browder, a  former high-level investor in Russia who has become one of Putin’s most oft-cited enemies for his role in lobbying for the U.S. sanctions bill known as the Magnitsky Act.

Putin countered that Browder’s associates sent $400 million in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.[3]

As always, follow the money trail. Corruption in American politics is a problem no honest American can ignore. Perhaps the inescapable moral comes from the famous proverb, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Do not criticize others if you have similar weaknesses yourself. None of us can afford the sin of self-righteousness.

[1] Lamentations Rabba 3:60,

[2] I would only like to add that the subject of election meddling by the Russians is a topic I would love to address at another time. Simply stated, strong nations do this when it affects a country’s political interest to do so. The Obama administration interfered in the Ukraine elections, which led to Russia’s predictable takeover of the area which holds Russia’s major naval base and sea outlet. The Obama administration interfered in the election of Israel. Lastly, The alleged Russian interference that occurred during the Obama administration did not elicit any criticism from our Commander in Chief, President Obama. The United States, like Russia, has a long history of interfering with elections elsewhere around the globe. See Ishaan Tharoor’s informative article on this subject in the Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/13/the-long-history-of-the-u-s-interfering-with-elections-elsewhere/?utm_term=.00572c6d89da.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via Michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com 

 

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/16/putin-asked-special-counsel-to-come-and-work-with-russia-trump-says.html

Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

Image result for lion pride

The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

Two Kings Cannot Wear the Same Crown

 

Many people, including myself, have often wondered about the Russian strategy in Syria, now that the war is for the most part over.

We all know that Assad is no boy scout; we also know that the ISIS fighters, who swelled the ranks of the rebels—are genocidal maniacs driven by an evil vision of Jihad. Such people do not merely kill, they kill with chemical weapons, they burn people alive, crucify non-Muslim children, feed their kids to their captured parents—the list of atrocities almost makes Assad look like a human being.

It reminds me of the old story—perhaps you heard of it.

Once an outlaw lost his brother who died after trying to rob a bank in a gunfight. The outlaw’s surviving brother tells a minister, “You had better say some nice things about my brother, or else I’ll kill ya!” The minister asked, “What should I say about him?” The outlaw said, “Make him sound like a saint!” At the funeral, the minister said, “Clive was a bank-robber, a cattle-rustler, a rapist, a thief, a murderer—he was someone who would even steal candy from a baby. But, compared to his brother, Clive was a saint!”

While Assad has plenty of blood on his hands, his relationship with Israel has for the most part been relatively good. Israel prefers Assad to the leaders of ISIS or other Muslim fanatics. There are many Red-Army veterans living in Israel (see the picture)–in fact many Russians citizens.

The moral of the story is simply this: the devil you know is better than the one who is worse.  The fact that the Russians are in Syria is not necessarily a bad thing. Putin can bring considerable stability in Syria—maybe in time even put in someone who is better than Assad.

But what about the Iranians? Assad had no problem using Hezbollah and the Iranian military to help defeat the rebels. But Hezbollah’s motivation had little to do with their love of Assad or the Russians. Their ambitions are much more regional-minded. Sure, they hope to use Syria as a platform to attack Israel, but they also wish to surround the Saudis in their effort to take over Muslim holy sites—especially the city of Mecca, the Crown-Jewels of the Muslim world.

Iran’s bellicose ambitions are hardly subtle. Their tolerance for the Russians—a temporary inconvenience.

Israel, as you know, will not let Iran realize their ambitions. Already, the Israelis have destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian weaponry. Have you notice that the Russians, for the most part, have been relatively silent. Netanyahu has, from what it appears, a reasonably good relationship with Putin.

Of course, appearances are deceptive—, especially in the Middle East.

However, Putin does not want to see an Iranian-Israeli war in Syria. It simply is not in Russia’s interest. And the reason for this is because of a political principle that the Midrash has long taught: “Two kings cannot share the same crown.”

It’s sort of like, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

And that is the situation brewing in Syria today between the Iranians and the Russians. Just last night, Putin made the statement, “Foreign troops—including Iran and Hezbollah should depart Syria when the civil war ends.”

Of course, he might have included the Turkish troops, for as Erdogan is really the “third king” of our Midrash, whose ambition is to reestablish the Ottoman Empire.

Put in different terms, “Three kings cannot share the same crown.”

And how did the Iranians take Putin’s remark? The Islamic Republic responds, “no one can force Iran to do anything. Those who should leave Syria are the ones who entered it without consent. We will remain and keep supporting Syria so long as it needs our help,” he added, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.

And with this revelation—something that I have personally observed for months—it ought to be clear that the Putin is prepared to give Netanyahu free reign to get rid of the Iranians as an occupying power.

Eventually, though, the political entropy between the Russians and the Iranians will manifest itself—sort of like spurned lovers.

As far as Assad goes, the Russians had better guard him closely, for eventually, the Iranians will try to replace him with a person of their own choosing.

I am betting the Russians and the Israelis will send the Iranians packing–especially as President keeps the pressure on the Iranians, who are rapidly becoming the pariah everyone hates.

 

 

You Shall not Covet: Getting Caught Within the Web of Desire Part 2

=============Image result for David kills Uriah pictures

(Picture: Nathan the Prophet confronts King David’s theft of Bathsheba)

The covetous road often entangles numerous other prohibition in its web. Below is a famous medieval parable about the dangers of coveting, and how the covetous person may ultimately get much more than he originally bargained.

On Shabbat eve, he went and broke down a thin wall between them, thus transgressing “Remember and observe the Sabbath.” As if that weren’t enough, he then rapes the woman whom he lusted after, and in the process, he violated the proscriptions of “Do not covet,’ and “Do not commit adultery.”

Alas, his appetite for the forbidden knew no bounds. After having his way with his neighbor’s wife, he helps himself to the family jewels.  The woman cried out, “Is there no end to your base character?” To silence her, the sinful man murders her, thus violating the law, “You shall not murder.”

After breaking a medley of biblical precepts found in the Ten Commandments, the man’s parents castigated him. And in defiance, the sinful son struck his parents, thus violating the precept commanding him to “Honor your father and mother.”

When he was arrested, he was taken to court and he cleverly testifies falsely with the help of his friends, that he had taken only his own property (i.e., also known as “The O.J. Simpson Defense”). He claimed that everything he took, was really his. Until now, he could not reclaim his property. However, once the robbers had broken the wall and killed his wife,  the opportunity was ripe for him to collect his property. Such a person has also transgressed, “Do not testify falsely.”

And kept on denying the accusations, one after the other. In doing so, he also transgressed “Do not swear falsely.” But in the end, his evil was revealed and his offense publicized. His shame was so great that he gave himself up to corruption and denied the Living God, thus transgressing “I am the LORD your God.” Finally, he became addicted to idol worship and bowed down to and served idols, thus transgressing “Do not have any other Gods beside me” and “Do not bow down to them and do not serve them.” And all this was caused by coveting. We see, then, that he who is covetous is close to transgressing the entire Torah. [1]

And now you know the rest of the story . . .

=========

Notes:

[1] Orchot HaTsadikim, Chapter 14: The Gate of Jealousy.

You Shall not Covet: Is it Possible to Legislate a Feeling? Part 1.

Image result for David sinning with Bathsheba pictures images

From Maimonides’ description, it is clear that the man who covets is someone who has an unhealthy soul and may not realize it. By being unconscious of this problem, his behavior embarks on a path of self-destruction and moral ruin. Based on this reading of Maimonides, it becomes clear the role of Nathan the Prophet played in confronting King David for his illicit affair with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). From a purely Maimonidean perspective, Nathan acted as a physician of the soul for David by prescribing him a regimen for David’s complete moral and spiritual rehabilitation. It is always intriguing to see how Maimonides’ exposition of coveting compares with other famous Judaic thinkers of history. Some of these scholars also examined the psychological component in the negative imperative “You shall not covet.” Yet, it is strange Maimonides did not illustrate his point by mentioning this famous biblical story!

Abraham Ibn Ezra: Now I shall present a parable: Know that a peasant who is of sound mind, and who sees a princess who is beautiful, will not covet her in his heart, to lie with her, for he knows that it is impossible. Do not consider this peasant to be like a lunatic, who would desire wings to fly to heaven, even though it is impossible. Likewise, a person does not desire to lie with his mother, although she may be beautiful, for he has been accustomed since his youth to know that she is forbidden to him.

In the same way, an intelligent person must know that he will not find a beautiful woman or wealth because of his wisdom or knowledge, but only if God allows it to him… and therefore an intelligent person does not desire it or covet it. When he knows that God has forbidden his neighbor’s wife to him, then she is more elevated in his eyes than the princess in the eyes of the peasant. Therefore, he is satisfied with his portion and does not allow his heart to covet and desire something that is not his, for he knows that God does not wish to give it to him; he cannot take it by force or by his thoughts or schemes. He has faith in his Creator, that He will provide for him and do what is good in His eyes.”[1]

Philo of Alexandria: While Philo‘s explanation is similar to Maimonides, but he expands much further on the proscription’s psychological aspects:

This commandment aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this proscription. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[2]

The law here aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this restriction. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[3]



[1] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 20:17.

[2] The Decalogue 173-174.

[3] The Decalogue 173-174.

From Medieval Book Burning to Modern Internet Censorship

Image result for book burning pictures medieval              Image result for book burning pictures medieval

 Information is the currency of democracy. —Thomas Jefferson

When I was a young sixteen-year-old, I remember becoming involved in the Chabad movement in Los Angelos, CA. I remember purchasing a translation of Judah Halevi’s classic theological work, “The Kuzari” that was translated by the early 20th-centuryOriental scholar Hartwig Hirschfeld. When an Orthodox rabbi looked over the book, he declared it, “heresy”, and ordered me to burn my newly purchased book. At the time, I protested and asked, “Could I merely pull out the Introduction and burn that section, but keep the book?” He said that would be fine.

For many years, I felt ashamed of my behavior. Several decades later I decided to use this personal anecdote as a teachable lesson. Often, I have long since pointed out to my students, burning ideas is a cowardly approach to dealing with personal insecurities about faith, as Freud observed long ago in his book, The Future of an Illusion. The only way to defeat ideas you don’t like is to come up with better and more convincing ideas and solutions.

The historian Norman Bentwich (1883-1971) wrote, “Philosophers tend to be viewed with suspicion by a large part of the community. Philosophers, by the very excellence of their thought, have in all races towered above the comprehension of the people, and have often aroused the suspicion of the religious teachers.” [1]

Bentwich makes a valid point. In the history of Judaism over the last 1900 years, Talmudists often viewed Jewish philosophers with a measure of mistrust, accusing them of harboring beliefs that were too dangerous for the masses. Throughout much of the yeshiva world, from the 18th century to the 21st century, no rabbinic student dared pick up the Guide to study—at least during the daytime, but you could see students huddled in their rooms, or sometimes even under a table reading the Guide clandestinely.

Maimonides’ philosophical ideas met considerable resistance in his day, and in the year 1233, not long after his death, Jewish leaders solicited the Dominican inquisitors and claimed Maimonides’ “heretical” teachings threatened to undermine all faiths. As one might expect, they burnt Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed at Montpellier, in southern France.

But a change of heart even amongst Maimonides’ greatest critics occurred once they realized they inadvertently made themselves vulnerable to future Dominican incursions. Within almost a decade, Pope Gregory IX led a campaign to burn other books held sacred by Jews, such as the Talmud. In the year 1242, the Catholic clergy collected twenty-four wagons of the Talmud, which they burnt in Rome. Thus, a dangerous precedent became established.

This condemnation was all the more ironic, considering how the Dominican theologians Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) each appropriated many ideas from Maimonides.[2] In the Summa, Aquinas quotes R. Moses twenty-four times, always reverently referring to him as, “Rabbi Moses.”  Aquinas, in particular, was an Italian Dominican priest and Doctor of the Church.

After Aquinas’ death, William of Ockham (1285-1321) and John Duns Scotus attempted to ban Thomas’ works as dangerous to the Church. Yet, the quest for a pure and acceptable theology did not end with William of Ockham’s condemnation of Aquinas, for in 1324, the Catholic Church later condemned some of Ockham’s works as containing heretical ideas,[3] thus proving that Bentwich’s point was correct, as mentioned above.

Back to the Present

You may ask: Is this relevant? It definitely is! The above historical discussion about censorship proved to be one of many indictments for the medieval Church and rabbis who engaged in that kind of intellectual internecine warfare against their faith’s freethinkers and other intrepid intellectual explorers. But nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, it is all the atrocious for Facebook and Twitter to engage in blocking political content of ideas its leaders and engineers find “offensive.”

Today, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released a surprise but damning report on Thursday that shows Twitter employees admitting they censor people’s’ right-leaning accounts, including banning them from the network because they do not agree with their political views! Had this happened in Russia, Iran, or China, none of us would be surprised—but in the 21st century United States? This is truly an affront to our society!

One Twitter employee named Pranay Singh, admitted that the majority of their algorithms are geared in such a manner that they target people with certain political views. Their method is insidious, they “shadow ban” right-leaning accounts, which essentially bans them from the platform without letting them know that they have been banned while allowing left-leaning accounts to slip through without the same scrutiny.” And they unabashedly admit:

  • “Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck,” Singh explained. “Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.” “I would say majority of it are for Republicans,” he confirmed. [4]

Many friends of mine on Facebook often get in the Facebook jail for asserting political views that the Facebook leadership does not like or approve. Let us hope that a class action suit is initiated. This is a battle that anyone along the political spectrum ought to agree upon. The Left would not like it if the political right behaved this way. Ideas deserve to be heard and debated in the public forum.



[1] Norman Bentwich, Philo of Alexandria (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1910), p. 7.

[2] See Jeremiah M. Hackett (ed.), A Companion to Meister Eckhart: Brill’s Companions to the  Christian Tradition (Boston: Brill, 2013).

[3] Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), p. 350.

[4] https://www.projectveritas.com/video/hidden-camera-twitter-engineers-to-ban-a-way-of-talking-through-shadow-banning/